Why Some Places Don’t Have Names

English Region
Why isn’t there an English name for this region?

Because its boundaries are arbitrary and unimportant to the people who live there. This is an important lesson in Indigenous toponymy. Indigenous place names cover the land in great detail, but all too often colonizers are confounded by the lack of an Indigenous name for a large region.

Jacques Cartier – “What’s this land called?”
Natives – “I don’t know, but this is our kaná:ta’ (village).”
Cartier – “Got it. The land of Canada.”

Or more recently, we hear a lot of “What do natives call Australia / Florida / The Philippines / British Columbia?”

The question is really what do colonizers call the place where the river current begins to quicken? Or where the migratory birds land in Spring? Or where that rock is shaped like an ancestor? The answer is nothing. They have no name because they do not have a relationship with the land.

The names that appear on maps represent the big places, not the small ones. The big places are defined by and thus named by colonizers, but they are no less Indigenous land.



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